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Ankle injury prevention for hikers should not be a matter of luck.
There are many things you should be doing to protect your ankle joints as they endure the pounding of walking while load bearing (carrying a pack or a baby carrier up a trail, for instance).
The first thing to do:
It's built around one bone called the talus, doing double duty: the talus joins the bones of the calf area (tibia and fibula) with the other foot bones.
It's the talus bone which distributes the weight of your body and whatever you're carrying to the bones beneath it in your foot.
I find it particularly cool that "talus" is also a geology word to indicate the jumbled rock pile found at the bottom of a steep slope.
However, talus slopes can be dangerous to ankles, given the tendency of loose stones to slide beneath the weight of a hiker.
It's your ankle joint which allows you to navigate these uneven surfaces, or to recover from stepping into a hole, and generally to give you mobility along the hiking trail.
Ever notice how your elbow and knee joints only bend, not swivel around like the ankle?
Each joint is designed for a specific purpose, and in a highly mobile joint such as your ankle, the least you want to prevent injuries so you can keep hiking.
A common ankle injury on the hiking trail is a "twisted" or "sprained" ankle.
You're not twisting the bones, but rather the soft tissue which is associated with this area joining the leg and the foot.
When ligaments "tear", your ankle becomes inflamed to deal with the injury:
Time to get off the ankle and apply RICE:
Keep yourself off crutches by warming up before each hike: stretch your calf muscles, do some ankle rolls before lacing up your boots, make sure your entire body is loose and limber before tackling a steep section of the trail.
It's a good idea to walk every day, on uneven terrain if possible, to keep your ankles up for the job of dealing with trail conditions. Hikers who "train" by walking on paved surfaces aren't doing their ankles any favors.
You may also hear about ankles strains. These are different than sprains because it's the tendons of the muscles joined to the bone, not the ligaments, which are torn.
You will be facing a longer recovery time, because that area is not well served by the circulatory system.
For a complete litany of ankle injuries, read this.
Which brings us to another good reason for warming up before you hit the trail: keep your muscles stretched and less prone to pulling their anchoring fibers (tendons) off the bone.
Ankle injury prevention shouldn't be confined to a few minutes at the trail head, however.
Here are a few tips to incorporating ankle care into your daily routine.
And a bit of self care, including massage, never hurt the soft tissue of this joint!
One last thing: stay hydrated.
Soft tissues get brittle and prone to injury if they don't have access to water throughout every day, and not just on hiking days. So give yourself plenty of water!
So here's a hiking joke for you:
Why do hikers have ankles?
That, and to take us up and down the trail.
So ankle injury prevention just makes sense for hikers AND mosquitoes, right?
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